Thinking about my relationship with my wife has—running it through the filter of Henri Nouwen’s The Return of the Prodigal Son—has made me realize a lot about my relationship with God. And vice versa. When you wander down a dark tunnel, the longer you walk in that darkness, the longer it will take you to find your way out/back again, pure and simple. It’s a long, self-exposing journey.

Whether we realize it or not, we’re all looking for a home where we could feel safe. A place of belonging and rest. Home. God has made His home, a place for us to return to, a place He calls us to. But God is also a jealous love, wanting every part of us all the time.

I know that I struggle with the idea that someone wants to know me, sees me, and still accepts, loves, and pursues me. So the words to that familiar hymn, “prone to wander”, ring true as over and over I have left home. Thoughts, feelings, passions, busyness all take me away from home, from God. Trying to stave off the travails of the human soul, the loneliness and sorrow; fill a hole, desire, and thirst only God could satisfy. Looking for affirmation, validation, appreciation, affection from friends, family, or fans. Not realizing that I can’t look for my true self, my true home, there, I have gone off to find somewhere else what I believed what I couldn’t find at home.

It boils down to we don’t trust in love. It’s hard to. It’s difficult to believe in a love that doesn’t compare, that doesn’t reward, that meets you where you are, as you as, because that’s not what we do and isn’t how our world operates. The world teaches us that love is conditional. That striving for success, popularity, power, denying that love is free, is all part of buying into the belief that you have to earn it. It feeds our doubts about our self-worth.

A lot of people live their lives never fully convinced they are loved as they are. Never be able to love or unable to receive love, or allow ourselves to feel and accept love without strings attached or pre-requisites. Their stories have an eerie similarity to them: their parents may not have given them what they needed, their teachers may not have believed in them or otherwise tore them down, they were abandoned at a critical moment (by parents, peers, or even a church). Whatever was their bedrock for stability was shaken or removed and they learned not to trust.

In God we have an invitation to intimacy, to a safe place to call home. We have a nearly instinctual resistance to him. Our independence, our need to control, prevents us from coming to our senses and falling to our knees. Unwilling to dare to let myself kneel down and be held by a loving God. To believe in the promise of forgiveness. Healing. Wholeness. As the Good Shepherd, God goes out and looks for His lost sheep. With God not content to let us stew in our sin and brokenness, we have to confront the question: if God is trying to find, know, and love me, how am I to let myself be found, be known, and be loved?

Ignoring the place of true love, combined with our need to fill our inner hole, causes us to look elsewhere. The deepest cravings of our hearts demands to be filled, enabling addictions. Our lostness makes us cling to different things to find (self) fulfillment. Chasing after lust confused with love, admiration, food, drugs, sometimes even a friendship can call you away from home, all are deceptive ways of finding self-worth. If we’re running around asking “do you love me? Do you really love me?” of those around us, we’re defined by the world and the loud voices who want us to buy into the lie about ourselves. If we’re hurting and chase a high to numb ourselves from the pain or feel a sense of peace, we’re unable to full experience life. And these have inner consequences as we end up running further and further away from home and the less we’re able to hear the voice of the one who loves and speaks love to us.

Stepping into the kingdom of God means giving up a sense of control. As our lives spiral out of control, as we come to, but haven’t quite arrived at, our end of self moment, we want a sense of control over the burgeoning mess of our lives. The difficult path begins when we let the situation inform and teach us, a process of letting go, dying to fear of not knowing where things will all lead. When we begin to hear a voice that could only be heard when you are willing to feel. When we’re willing to do the hard work of staying in the pain of this world, while in pain, and dealing with the pain.

Accepting love, forgiveness, and healing is often harder than giving it because giving it means we’re in control. Anything else means that we are entering into a scary place, like much of faith, and becomes about surrender and trust. We enter into a place beyond earning and deserving. A place of grace. Home.

Coming home is a long, self-exposing journey, part of the spiritual adventure.

And I’m praying for the strength to live out that journey.